April 22, 2010 9:57 AM
Freeing up code - tale of two cities
There's more than just the Atlantic separating the US and the UK. There's the attitude of governments to their own sites, not to mention the differing attitudes to open source.
The White House has announced that it has released some of the code that it has developed for the whitehouse.gov site. As the code is part of the Drupal Project, the code is open source anyway, but it's the attitude of the US government techies that really strikes home. "This code is available for anyone to review, use, or modify. We're excited to see how developers across the world put our work to good use in their own applications. By releasing some of our code, we get the benefit of more people reviewing and improving it," says Dave Cole, senior advisor to the CIO at the White House.
Of course, such a thing would never happen over this side of the pond. For a start, there's an obsession with secrecy that bedevils every government department - looked at the way that the Freedom of Information Act, even in its watered-down version, was met with much resistance and MPs are still trying to push through amendments to exempt groups - notably MPs.
But it's not just the government's attitude to secrecy: open source is treated as something akin to devil-worshipping in some parts of government. So, the idea that a major project in the government backyard would be based on something as basic as Drupal is pretty far-fetched. No, this side of the Atlantic would have involved a closed-tender process; a decision made by closed doors based on proprietary software and we'd be completely in the dark about costs, about delays and about functionality. The one thing that we could say from such an approach is that no-one would be interested in the code that could be released.
There's talk at this election of there being need for a British Obama, I think most in the IT industry would settle for an Obama CIO. I think we'll have a long wait.
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